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Is Starchy Really the New Umami?

The science behind our cravings for pasta and bread has finally arrived.

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Photography by: Marcus Nilsson

Everyone knows the basic tastes -- sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and in recent years, umami, which is Japanese for “savory” and can be found in ingredients from anchovies to miso. We also love the delicious mash-ups that can result from remixing these flavors (like in our favorite Sweet and Salty Dessert Recipes). According to a new study led by Oregon State University food scientist Juyun Lim, there’s an important taste missing from the list -- starchiness.

 

“Every culture has a major source of complex carbohydrate. The idea that we can’t taste what we’re eating doesn’t make sense,” she told New Scientist. In order to test this theory, Lim and her team gave various carbohydrate solutions to volunteers and found that they were able to detect a starchy taste in the solutions that contained long or short carbohydrate chains. Depending on what kind of starches the volunteers were most familiar with, they described the taste as similar to rice, bread, or pasta.

 

While the evidence is compelling, there are still more boxes that need to be checked off in order for starchiness to be officially recognized as a primary taste. According to New Scientist, “Tastes need to be recognizable, have their own set of tongue receptors, and trigger some kind of useful physiological response.” While Lim has yet to find any specific starch receptors, she argues that the taste of starch is useful because the body recognizes it as a valuable source of energy: “I believe that’s why people prefer complex carbs. Sugar tastes great in the short term, but if you’re offered chocolate and bread, you might eat a small amount of the chocolate, but you’d choose the bread in larger amounts.” Our only quibble? If we were offered chocolate and bread, we'd put them together! Chocolate Marble Bread or Chocolate Bread Pudding, anyone?

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